Communication is key

The art of communication is key in everything we do in life and is one of the single most important skill of our species. It allows us to order food at a restaurant when hungry, tell a lover how we feel or even voice disgust when not happy with something or someone.

There are many different types of communication and different places to communicate. Not to mention there are as many different people to communicate those ideas and thoughts to as well.

There are many articles on the internet about what constitutes effective communication and ways to improve it.

Communication is not just relevant in the working environment only or for politicians trying to campaign for your votes or even lecturers teaching their students the most important aspect of a subject.

So where am I going with all this you must be thinking?

For an entrepeneur communication is a vital and key component for his or her survival and success in the long run.

This is because any good (or even bad for that matter) idea needs to be communicated verbally to co-founders, investors, customers (whoever they may be), other relevant people and even family members who simply want to know what you are working on.

An entrepeneur is expected to be able to communicate his business proposition, concept, idea simply without any confusion and this requires firstly, for them to understand what it is they are working on or with before they can even explain that to anyone else.

Thats why there is the 60 second pitch or even the 140 character limit of explaining themselves.

Brevity is indeed an art and skill that very few possess and even fewer master – including myself.

For that sake I shall not be digressing any further here on on any other future blog posts (c.f. the first post to understand what I am getting at).

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Go on be a hero

Every startup and business at some point in its life would go through some problems and by problems here I am referring specifically to financial ones. All businesses whether new or old, need a steady stream of cash flow be it in the form of sales, licenses, grants, loans etc to stay a float and pay for things like rents, rates, salaries, insurance, patents amongst other things.

So what does a startup whose CEO co-founder has put in a lot of money into the business, to pay for all sorts of things over the years, as well as go through a healthy grant from a government backed body do when all funds are exhausted and other team members are bootstrapping for their lives and in need of paying? Nothing other than work harder in attaining those highly required funds from somewhere. Anywhere.

I would like to a relate an encounter that took place not long ago when I bumped into a well-known digital entrepreneur and startup mentor upon relating the above sob story to him. By the way, this encounter took place at a coffee machine in massive co-working space and lasted no more than 5 minutes.

I was just sitting on my laptop at that moment going through emails replying back to important people, when I realised who he was and ran to him like a mad man. I related our sorry financial predicament to him and in true entrepreneurial spirit asked me a couple of questions.

One question was “have you sought any grants?”, to which I replied “yes but we exhausted it all.”

His reply to that was rather unexpected but very logical and that was “have you gone back and asked for more?”

My brain frazzled at that moment momentarily as I thought to myself “durrrrr, it’s so obvious why didn’t we even think of that.”

I said “no we didn’t. We didn’t know we could even do that.”

He said in a deep pan looking way “well do it then.”

I thought to myself “okkkkkkkk”, looking a bit befuddled and bamboozled expecting to hear something more out of the box.

He then went on to ask me about whether I knew who or what SwiftKey was all about.

I replied in a child like eager manner that “of course I did. They were acquired by Microsoft recently for like $250 million dollars.”

(http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2016/02/03/microsoft-acquires-swiftkey-in-support-of-re-inventing-productivity-ambition/#sm.00006kz4tj1mwdw5xa92gbzf8eiar)

He replied “good” and proceeded to tell me a story about how they too went through a government backed grant and were running into financial problems when then they re-applied for a second helping of that fund. They got it obviously. Otherwise they would have existed after that. Maybe.

He then finally gave me what I was really looking for and asked me “do you want to be hero?” I replied instantaneously “YES.”

He said “go and make sales or take orders from customers. Isn’t that one way to be seen as a hero in the company?”

I replied “absolutely.”

He proceeded to carry on telling me about some other related stuff as I walked with him back to the elevators waiting for any more gems to be dropped by him. Alas, it wasnt, but thats all I needed to hear.

I shook his hand and thanked him immensely for what was a really important but fundamental advice for any startup.

I immedieately rushed back to my laptop and email our CEO whether he thought about re-applying for that grant again.

I also looked deeper into our prototype and business plan and sought to find ways of getting any sales or confirmation of future sales.

Anyways, it is after all the purpose of any business/startups to be making money, right? Otherwise it just becomes a charitable endeavour, but even they make money to pay for their staff and what not.

It actually begs the question of what line of business are you really in if you are not making any money whatsoever at all? hhhhhmmmmmm…….

Startups are not for the faint!

In life we go through periods of ups and downs and none other than is that best manifested than in a rejection of some sorts. Rejection is a good example of one of those down points in life and everyone goes through it multiple times a day.

Rejection is problematic because by definition it is a refusal or dismissal of ones proposal, idea, affection or even efforts. I am sure everyone has had their fair share of spurning from a potential lover.

The rejection I am referring to here is not to dissimilar to that above but takes the different form of a decline from a top cyber security accelerator place. If you are not familiar already with what an accelerator is, then it would be handy to mention what it is.

Accelerator is a structured program that last usually from a couple of weeks to a several months and allows a startup to get mentors and advisors that help to build up a business and avoid problems encountered in the early stages. It helps you with pitches, connecting companies with other potential investors, refine and develop your product further so that you will be in a position to seek some initial funding after the program is completed.

They can be very useful program if you know what you want to get from it and know how exactly it can help “accelerate” your business further. Not all accelerators are equal as they all cater for different sectors, offer different amounts of funding and support, have differing prestige levels due to how long it has been around and different success stories from previous cohorts that have gone on to succeed or not as the case may be.

Accelerators are not for the faint hearted as they require a lot of effort and input from all team members and requires full engagement if you want to get what it is you want from it. It’s not cheap either as equity is taken up too from the business. So that is why it is important you evaluate if an accelerator or even an incubator is right for you and your business (http://www.techrepublic.com/article/accelerators-vs-incubators-what-startups-need-to-know/).

It’s a known statistic how many startup companies fail within 1, 3, 5 and even 10 years of setting up and that is why you must decide properly the pros and cons of whether or not an accelerator is for you and with the differing amount of sector specific accelerators coming up on the market, it would be wise to find out which one would be useful or better suited to your own situation and needs.

So what happens if you get rejected from an accelerator place that you wanted to get on so badly? Nothing. You carry on doing what it was you was doing already and get feedback as to why you didn’t make the mark and re-iterate again.

Fortunately for us we made the last 20 of 150 or so applicants and fell short at the final interview stage. Only 8-10 startups were getting shortlisted for the placement, which makes it by my maths roughly a 50-50 chance. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be but we got thorough feedback and advice going forward and that was very important to say the least. So it’s not the end of the world.

Startup ventures are not for the faint hearted if you can not handle rejection and bitter home truths. You need to have thick skin and broad shoulders in this game to take criticism’s in whatever form they come (and I promise you they will come in different forms), but as long as you can filter the good critique from the bad ones and take them on board and learn from it, then you will undoubtedly succeed eventually.

perseverance is another one of those other but equally important quality required to be an entrepreneur.

A week in a startup is indeed a very, very long time

Everyone, whether they are or not interested in politics, know the famous quote attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Ex-Labour British Prime Minister (PM) James Harold Wilson (1916-1995) of ‘a week is a long time in politics’.

As a child born in the 80’s, I unfortunately was not alive to remember his premier, as he passed away while I was still in primary school (RIP Harold). Upon some light reading on the internet, specifically Wikipedia to be honest with you – which we all know is not the best source of accurate and up to date information out there. However, if used cautiously and wisely, it can give anyone, even academics quick up to date information on any particular topic they may fancy.

Thus, it has been made aware from the Wiki page, that he was Prime Minister of UK for 6 years between 1964-1970 and again for a shorter period of time between 1974-1976. Interestingly, I learnt that it was during his second term as PM, where he lead a tiny majority government, that a referendum took place that cemented Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was then known.

Today, some 40 years or so after that first European referendum, there will take place another equally important referendum on 23rd June 2016, to decide the UK’s future continued membership of the European Union (EU). This mass vote in the summer of 2016 is expected to be much more closer than the first one.

Anyway, I didn’t mean for this first entry in the blog, which is supposed to be about startups to be political in nature or even discuss UK plebiscites (legal term for referendum) at all, but I could not help myself. Once I referred to Wilson infamous statement, it was a necessary evil to do the proper background checks.

Apologies for the digression but I think it was quite relevant and pertinent in my honest opinion.

It is important to note here the intricate relationship and dynamics at play, similarities and differences, between politics, business and law – which I am sure this blog will make references to in future posts. I mean its not like the Britain in or out referendum is not going to have no effect whatsoever on the UK startup scene and wider economy at large.

So you may be asking what is it with the title and why am I re-phrasing Wilson? Simple. If a week is a long time in politics, then it is an even LONGER and probably more stressful (you may beg to differ and that’s fine) working in a startup, especially when that startup is not your “baby” and someone else has asked you to come work with them or for them (don’t ask what I mean now – I will explain that can of worms in another post later).

Yes, there is a very clear, big DIFFERENCE between the two situations, as you can obviously imagine. Firstly, one does not have the luxury of other hard working ministers and civil servants to help make your life easier and the whole transition process as seamless as possible. This isn’t the case in a startup, unfortunately, and there are a bunch of other examples too, for the sake of brevity will not be delved into now.

Another thing that was also noticed was that you have to fight tooth and nail to even begin to negotiate for what would otherwise be a commercially fair and viable offer, which can just easily be accepted. I know I am just showing my naivety here around the negotiation table. But if you know your value, strengths, qualities and skills you can bring, even if you can’t accurately quantify it and put a precise number to it, you will have a good starting of knowing what you will and wont accept.

That is one of the main hurdles and stumbling blocks of working on or with another person on their startup project and not one of your own unfortunately, because after that minefield is negotiated, you can pretty much get your head down and focus on the very important matters of growing the business and product further, meet clients and potential new customers, focus on improving the website and social media presence, sales and marketing, seeking funding from whatever source, applying for accelerator and incubator places etc. etc. etc.

If it wasn’t already stressful enough working on a new startup you had the pleasure of dreaming up yourself one night, (trust me) its even more stressful working on someone else’s, no matter how great their idea is or how much you like or believe in it yourself.

Upon trying to seek some pertinent advice about the given situation at hand from other startups in similar early stage position, I had the pleasure of meeting a young CEO and co-founder of a new tech startup who will remain nameless here, and he posed a very important but crudely phrased rhetorical question, of ‘why do you still want to be someone else’s bi*ch?’ At that point the grey matter started ticking over and went into hyper drive mode.

I will end it on that note and let you digest what has just been narrated, which was a fair amount.

I hope you enjoy this blog and all the posts that come from it.

Do please leave any comments or criticism you may have, both constructive and otherwise.

Have a great week planning and working on your own startup empires.

Peace Out!

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